MSF Calls on Drug Companies to Pool HIV Patents

September 30, 2009

The international medical humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling on nine of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies to help accelerate the availability of new treatments for millions of people living with HIV/AIDS by pooling their patents on a list of key HIV medicines.

A patent pool is a mechanism whereby a number of patents held by different parties are brought together and are made available to others for production or further development. The patent holders receive royalties paid by those using the patents. The mechanism has been instrumental in promoting innovation in industries such as aeronautics and digital telecommunications.

"It’s a simple idea - companies share their knowledge in return for fair royalty payments," says Michelle Childs, Director of Policy & Advocacy at MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "But it has the potential to transform companies’ approaches to access to HIV medicines and foster innovation in a way that marks an alternative to the confrontation and litigation of the past."

UNITAID, the international drug purchasing agency, is currently establishing a medicines patent pool for HIV drugs. Critical to its success will be the willingness of patent owners to participate by including their patent rights in the pool.

"The scheme is voluntary so companies have a choice, and today we’re asking them to make that choice," says Childs. "This is an opportunity for these drug companies to demonstrate that they are genuinely committed to effective measures that allow access to life-saving medicines for people with HIV in developing countries. Some companies have expressed interest in the idea, but we need them to go further and put key patents in the pool."

For people living with HIV/AIDS, the impact could be considerable. A patent pool could speed up the availability of more affordable versions of new medicines, as generic production could begin well before the 20-year patent terms expire. Currently, patent barriers can also prevent innovation such as new paediatric formulations or much-needed fixed-dose combinations.

Click here for the full announcement and more information from Médecins Sans Frontières.